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 with Rob Miskosky

Ice Roads and Green Belly

Holy #@$%! That’s glare ice!” I said to my son Dakota, as we stood at the top of Boulder Hill looking down it. At the bottom of the hill, I could see a large oilfield truck skewed at an odd angle. I could also see two people moving about, perhaps looking over their predicament. They must have gambled they could make it down the hill that has a 400-foot elevation drop by keeping to the left where patches of gravel could be seen through the ice. Apparently, the gravel must have run out.

“Now what are we going to do?” Dakota asked. “We certainly can’t go down there!”

“Glare ice made the road down the hill, a 400-foot elevation drop, unusable.”

He was right. There would be no way to get around the stricken vehicle and even if there was a way around, I had no intention of driving down the ice-laden hill. Driving to this point had already been an adventure; I’d lost control of our truck only to be saved by a snow berm created by a road grader that bounced us back onto the correct path.

We were trying to get to our trapline parking spot before loading up the snowmobile and toboggan and heading to the cabin. The week before I had set up a portion of our lynx line in too warm of weather; in fact, it had even rained for a while. Obviously, conditions had worsened over the week. It had been slippery then, but this was ridiculous; warm weather had turned to cold, leaving roads in harrowing condition.

I was also concerned about our trails and hoped that if we had caught a lynx that it wasn’t spoiled. Furbearers can only lay for so long in warm weather before they start to get what trapper’s term “green belly”, a condition where the animal’s hide begins to taint at the stomach area. If not dealt with relatively soon, it can lead to slippage of the fur, turning a good pelt into a poor one.

The only way we were going to reach our cabin would be via a pipeline that travels through the trapline. As long as the steep portion at the beginning wasn’t ice as well, we would be fine. It would just take us a lot longer to get there, something we are used to anyway. Seldom can we even get to the hill by truck; usually, it’s a five-mile snowmobile trek to the cabin.

Trappers are often faced with adverse conditions while plying their trade. For myself, running a trapline in the higher elevations of the foothills has led to many complications but those complications are usually snow related. Today, however, ice was the culprit.

I managed to get our truck and trailer parked far enough off to the side of the road so that if another truck were called to rescue the truck at the bottom of the hill, they’d be able to get by me. They’d have to wait for better conditions though; if not, they’d end up at the bottom of the hill much like those below us now were. The truck was going to be there for a while and there was no way we could get down the hill to see if the people below us needed our help, walking down was impossible. Heck, just standing on the icy road was an adventure in itself. We’d try to get to them from below, if we could.

Soon we were on our way down the steep incline of the pipeline, managing to get to the road at the bottom without issue. Turning back east, we soon discovered that reaching the stranded truck would be impossible by snowmobile. The track would just spin on the glare ice of the bottom road, barely inching us forward. I wasn’t even going to try to reach them now; they were on their own. A hill lay between them and us that was a sheet of ice. We had to get off the road as soon as we could or we weren’t going anywhere either.

Soon we found ourselves on Cabin Trail and the going was much better. While our trail was packed and frozen hard with a layer of ice overtop it, the snowmobile’s track was able to grip enough to propel us forward. Turning was a struggle, as Dakota learned, putting the snowmobile off the trail and into the willows on a sharp corner.

Over the next three days, we struggled with the icy roads and trails, extending the time of our travels extensively. We managed to pick up a coyote, a lynx and a few ermine. The coyote, surprisingly, was frozen solid. The lynx, however, was a different story. It hadn’t frozen and the smell of green belly was faint, but it was there. I skinned the lynx on the cabin porch at first chance. While green belly was clearly evident, it wasn’t at a critical stage and the pelt will be fine.

Whether you’re out there trapping, hunting predators or ice fishing this winter, remember to take your time, pack wisely, and make sensible decisions. And always expect the unexpected when you’re out in the elements. Stay safe out there! ■

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